Geographically, the Americas span time zones and cross the equator. Two oceans lap at their shores, while mountains, rivers, lakes and canyons chop up the terrain. And inside each nook and cranny of this land are cultures — each with a story to dance.

“Dancing Americas”

Through Feb. 6, Thurs. at 7:30 p.m.,
Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m
Power Center
Tickets from $10

“Dancing Americas” is a School of Music, Theatre & Dance performance aimed at celebrating the rich history and color of the Americas. The production has been in the works since auditions began last September and involves 45 dancers. Its four diverse pieces incorporate cultural influences through the use of authentic costumes, music and movement.

“It’s been fascinating to work on,” said MT&D Prof. Judy Rice, the artistic director of the production.

The opening piece is a “MinEvent,” which includes four pieces by the late modern dance pioneer Merce Cunningham, whose company will perform in Ann Arbor later this month. The piece is set to a live performance by the Digital Music Ensemble of John Cage’s “Cartridge Music.”

“The music and the dancing happen simultaneously but are not necessarily involved with one another,” Rice said.

MT&D sophomore Alejandro Quintanilla, who is a member of the production, said that the live music presented a unique aspect of the production.

“In the ‘MinEvent,’ dancers don’t know what they’re going to hear when they perform it,” Quintanilla said. “The musicians do a lot of improvisation so the dancers have to count all the steps.”

The second piece, “Towards a sudden silence,” choreographed by MT&D lecturer Melissa Beck, is inspired by the poetry of Hopwood award winner and ‘U’ alum Marge Piercy.

“It’s a passionate work and an interesting piece to follow (Cunningham’s),” Rice said. “I’ve seen it just morph, and every time I see it I want to see it again.”

Rice described the piece as being set in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Dancers wear costumes reminiscent of the era, incorporating classic pillbox hats.

“The movement connotes both constraint and struggle to break societal constrictions of the era,” Rice said. “It’s one of those pieces that Melissa doesn’t want to say too much about, because she wants the audience to take what they want away from it.”

The third and last piece before the intermission, “Tango con la vida,” is a new piece choreographed by MT&D Prof. Sandra Torijano. The work is tied to Latin American rhythms and culture with black dresses, bowler hats and bright red lipstick adorning dancers as they move to the music of the Latina Strings Ensemble on an elaborately set stage.

“This piece is Sandra’s celebration of life, after struggling with leukemia for the past two years,” Rice said.

The final piece is perhaps the most anticipated segment of the show. Titled “The Summit,” the number is a brand new work of guest choreographer Dianne McIntyre.

“This piece has been the most fun I’ve had while dancing in a few years,” Quintanilla said.

According to Quintanilla, the piece is a narrative of two tribes separated by animosity, with one dancer trying to bring them together.

McIntyre didn’t start to choreograph the piece until January, after rehearsals began. Because the piece was actually choreographed in rehearsal, its creation heavily depended upon the collaboration of the dancers, musicians and the choreographer.

“Sometimes it’s a little slow because you have to figure out what (McIntyre) sees so you can do it,” Quintanilla said.

For Quintanilla, working so closely with McIntyre was an exciting experience.

“Her movement style is very closely related to my movement style, which has made it a lot of fun,” Quintanilla said. “It’s dynamic yet smooth … it’s realistic, it’s not overacted or trying to be ‘dancey.’ I guess it’s fluid with a punch to it.”

The music for “The Summit” is also played live. The ensemble includes bass, drums, guitar, flute, trombone and trumpet.

“It’s phenomenal to hear it,” Rice said. “I was watching a rehearsal the other night and I had shivers.”

Through each step, leap and pirouette, emotion silently emanates from the stage. Dancers will spin stories through movement — sharing the culture of the Americas.

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